What does AQ Online expect to be the anticipated headline grabbers for the week of March 5-9, 2012? The top-five stories include: Joe Biden’s Latin America tour; FIFA’s criticism of Brazil; Hugo Chávez’ health recovery; new presidential polls in Mexico; and the UN making further preparations for Rio+20.
1) Biden in Mexico and Honduras: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden arrived yesterday in Mexico, where he holds meetings today in Mexico City with Mexican President Felipe Calderón and the three presidential candidates for the July 2012 election. According to Tony Blinken, national security advisor to the vice president, Biden and Calderón will discuss a wide range of bilateral issues “in the spirit of equal partnership, mutual respect and shared responsibility.” Tomorrow morning, Biden travels to Honduras to meet privately with President Porfirio Lobo, and then will have lunch with the presidents of Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Panama. Much of Biden’s visit will center around the violence surrounding narcotics trafficking through Central America.
Although Blinken said that the meeting in Honduras “provides an opportunity to reaffirm the United States' strong support for the tremendous leadership President Lobo has displayed in advancing national reconciliation and democratic and constitutional order,” AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini posits, “almost three years after the coup, Honduras has deteriorated politically and socially—and the region has largely walked away from it.”
2) Brazil-FIFA Row: After FIFA Secretary-General Jerome Valcke criticized on Friday Brazil’s lack of preparedness for the 2014 World Cup, specifically its lack of infrastructure and delayed construction timetables, Brazilian Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo has refused to communicate directly with Valcke. Rebelo called Valcke’s remarks—specifically that Brazil needs a “kick in the backside”—offensive and unacceptable. Expect this contention to further increase as the June 2014 kickoff date approaches, but more recently as Valcke lands in Brazil in the coming days.
3) Chávez in Recovery: The revelation by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez that the lesion he had surgically removed in Cuba was indeed a malignant tumor has fueled speculation about his long-term health outlook before and after the October 7 presidential contest against Henrique Capriles Radonski. According to Christopher Sabatini, “unfortunately, the president has refused to be transparent about his condition in the past” and that his admission of the malignant tumor “still raises a number of questions including the prognosis for his recovery, his treatment and some alternative plan should his condition take a turn for the worse.”
AQ Online today launches its weekly Monday Memo that looks ahead to what it expects to be the top headline grabbers for the week. The top anticipated stories for the week of February 27 include: Hugo Chávez’ surgery; U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano’s current five-country Latin America tour; U.S. Vice President’s forthcoming visit to Mexico and Honduras; the search for a new prime minister in Haiti; and FARC suspending kidnappings in Colombia.
Chávez' Cancer: As the Venezuelan president heads to Cuba for a second surgical operation, the rumor mill on his real health status will continue as will the discussion about what its implications will be for Venezuela's October presidential election. Christopher Sabatini, AQ editor-in-chief, observes: “While it may translate into sympathy support, President Chávez' lack of transparency about his illness and treatment will likely raise fears among some Venezuelans about their future and a potential successor—irrespective of what the president says upon his release.”
Napolitano on Latin America Tour: U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano begins a five-country tour today through Wednesday in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Panama. According to a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) press release, Secretary Napolitano will be accompanied by Acting Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection David Aguilar and DHS Assistant Secretary for International Affairs Alan Bersin. Her visit is likely intended to reiterate support for security measures like the Central America Regional Security Initiative and reinforce counter-trafficking efforts to interdict narcotics through key transit points.
Biden to Mexico and Honduras: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will visit Mexico and Honduras on March 4-6, meeting with both Presidents Calderón and Lobo. Why is the Vice President going to Honduras? While Mexico remains an important economic, diplomatic and strategic partner in the war on drugs, the trip to Honduras is a mystery. Since the 2009 coup, Honduras has become the murder capital of Central America. Two weeks ago, a fire at a Honduran prison left 350 inmates dead—an incident that Human Rights Watch blamed on poor and overcrowded conditions in Honduran prisons.
Haiti Prime Minister Watch: The abrupt resignation of Haitian Prime Minister Gary Conille on Friday culminated weeks of disagreement between him and President Michel Martelly. The departure of the former UN diplomat and favorite of the international aid community is a blow for both political stability in Haiti and for donor nations that had great hopes in a government that included his technical skills. Jason Marczak, AQ senior editor, says: “Expect President Martelly to move quickly in naming a successor, with a candidate likely announced this week.” Foreign Minister Laurent Lamothe is one possibility as is Chief of Staff Ann-Valerie Milfort. However, both would face a tough confirmation by an opposition-controlled legislature.
FARC Hostage Release: Colombia's FARC announced on Sunday that it will suspend all kidnapping and free remaining prisoners. Is this a political ploy or a true change in tactics? Given the group's decentralized nature, it is unclear whether the FARC secretariat can actually enforce the order, if it chooses to do so. Expect renewed debate this week on whether this may help to clear the way for an eventual peace dialogue or if the current strategy should continue without talks.
The White House announced yesterday that Joe Biden will travel to Mexico and Honduras on March 4–6. In Mexico City, he will meet with President Felipe Calderón to underscore the U.S. commitment to dialogue and collaboration on a range of issues important to both countries. Following that, Vice President Biden will travel to Tegucigalpa for a bilateral meeting with President Porfirio Lobo. Further details about these meetings will be released at a later date.
Biden will also participate in a meeting of Central American leaders organized by President Lobo, the president pro tempore of the Central American Integration System. It is expected that the topic of crime and security will figure heavily into that meeting—especially following Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina’s statement last week that his country and others should consider legalizing drugs to help reduce violence in the region.
In both countries, Biden will also be discussing the agenda for the Summit of the Americas, which will be held in Cartagena, Colombia, in mid-April, and the official theme of which will be physical integration and regional cooperation within the Western hemisphere as mechanisms for development and increased prosperity.
Biden last traveled to the region in March 2009, when he met with Latin American heads of state at the Summit of Progressive Leaders in Viña del Mar, Chile and a summit of Central American leaders in San José, Costa Rica.
Honduran President Porfirio Lobo said on Saturday that the surge of police and military personnel in cities highly affected by drug-related violence—part of a mission known as Operación Relámpago (Operation Lightning)—has been successful in reducing crime.
According to the president’s remarks on national television and radio, the operation, which began on November 1, has lowered the rate of violence by 90 percent in Tegucigalpa and 50 percent in San Pedro Sula, Honduras’ two largest cities. Lobo added, “From the results that have been obtained in a few days, we are confident that as time passes by the entire population will restore its confidence in returning to the streets without having fear of being victims of criminals.”
Operation Lightning was launched to combat a spiraling wave of violence in Honduras, which has claimed 20 lives every day and earned the Central American nation the highest homicide rate in the world—82.1 murders per 100,000 people—according to the 2011 Global Study on Homicide, which was published by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
Lobo has pledged a zero-tolerance attitude toward crime and corruption. He fired his top police chiefs in the end of October.
In efforts to combat an ongoing wave of narcotics-related violence, police forces in Honduras yesterday moved in on cities and neighborhoods dominated by criminal gangs. The mission, endorsed by President Porfirio Lobo and referred to as Operation Lightning, began in the large population centers of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula. Lobo pledged to “do everything possible within the law to reduce the impunity that makes us all indignant.”
On Monday, the Associated Press reported that Honduras “has become a main transit route for South American cocaine” bound for the United States, and that Honduran authorities—in cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and other partners—only intercept about 5 percent of the cargo.
According to the 2011 Global Study on Homicide, commissioned by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and released last month, Honduras had the highest murder rate in the world last year: 82.1 homicides per 100,000 people. El Salvador, Honduras’ neighbor in the Northern Triangle, registered the second-highest homicide rate: 66 per 100,000 people.
Further, earlier this week Lobo fired his top police commanders in a measure to tackle corruption; four Honduran officers serving prison sentences for murder had been released from jail, inflaming public discontent.
Last month, La Ceiba, Honduras, hosted the first ever World Summit of Afro-Descendants—a gathering of over 1,000 people from 44 countries in the Americas, Africa, Europe, and Asia. The Organización de Desarrollo Étnico Comunitario and the International Civil Society Committee organized the event to commemorate the United Nations and Organization of American States’ International Year for People of African Descent.
Throughout the city, summit posters and signs were everywhere. It seemed as if the gathering was finally affording Afro-Hondurans overdue recognition. Opening ceremony speakers included Honduran President Porfirio Lobo, Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom, government representatives, and the mayor of La Ceiba, among others. They spoke out against discrimination and stressed the need to work collaboratively to promote greater inclusion.
But a counter assembly outside of the summit grounds led by the Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña painted a different picture. Organizers argued that despite the rhetoric of inclusion, many members in the Afro-Honduran community felt excluded from the summit and that participation had been limited to international delegations and select Hondurans.
The summit raised a fundamental question: how can we bring together participants from the region to discuss issues of representation for Afro-Descendants, while at the same time fail to address the issues faced by local Garifuna communities, such as the impact of Model Cities? Were the organizers perpetuating the very problem they were seeking to tackle?
Lack of access to health care is pervasive in rural areas of Latin America. Watch GE address this challenge in Honduras through its "Developing Health Globally" initiative.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper today begins a weeklong tour through South and Central America with a focus on boosting trade ties. He will visit four countries: Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Honduras.
Harper’s arrival in Brazil last night marks his first official visit to the country in more than five years as prime minister. His bilateral meeting with President Dilma Rousseff today and speech to the São Paulo business, political and academic communities tomorrow underscore his goal to aggressively improve Canadian-Brazilian commercial relations. The rise of Brazil is a focus of the Spring 2011 issue of Americas Quarterly and of the AS/COA’s Latin American Cities Conference in São Paulo tomorrow.
Canadian-Brazilian ties have become rocky in past years, especially amid disputes over government subsidies for Brazil’s Embraer aerospace conglomerate and Canada’s Bombardier, Inc. aircraft manufacturer. Brazil is Canada’s 10th-largest export destination and Jayson Myers, president of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, said that “of any major emerging economies, Brazil presents Canada with the most opportunity for export.”
Harper will continue Wednesday to Bogotá to meet with President Juan Manuel Santos. The two countries enjoy close ties and the Canada-Colombia free-trade agreement (FTA) enters into force next week. President Santos—in an exclusive interview with AQ on Friday—emphasized the importance of a similar FTA with the United States. Harper finishes his trip in Central America, visiting Costa Rica and Honduras on Thursday and Friday. The Prime Minister’s Office in Ottawa notes that Harper will be the first foreign leader to visit Honduras after its readmission into the Organization of American States in June.
From Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
Victorious Humala Plans SouthAm Travels
The latest numbers from Peru’s electoral authority confirm that Ollanta Humala maintains his lead over Keiko Fujimori, who conceded defeat on Monday. Humala won 51.465 percent of the votes against Fujimori’s 48.535 percent, with 98 percent of the ballots counted. Several Latin American leaders congratulated Humala on his victory and invited him to visit their countries. Humala begins a tour of South America next Wednesday that will take him to Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile, and then the rest of South America. The goal of the trip will be to strengthen bilateral relations with Peru’s regional neighbors and to push agreements aimed at promoting Peru’s development. Humala also says he hopes to visit the United States.
Humala gave his first sit-down interview since the election to CNN en Español on June 6, in which he proposed allowing recall elections for the president and legislators, as well as reforming the Peruvian Constitution to allow the state to invest public money. He also said that under his administration military figures will only occupy military positions and there will be “zero tolerance for drugs.” He noted that ex-President Alberto Fujimori, currently serving time for corruption and human rights abuses, will only be transferred to an ordinary jail cell if the courts decide to move him. “We don’t want more divergence. We want unity.”
Peru’s Stock Market Rebounds after Monday’s Steep Drop
The Peruvian stock market continued to recover Wednesday, after ratings agencies said that President-elect Ollanta Humala’s election would not affect the country’s investment-grade status. The Lima General Index plummeted 12.5 percent on Monday—the largest drop since it was created in 1981—and closed early, after conservative Keiko Fujimori conceded defeat to Humala. The Economist Intelligence Unit explores the meaning of the election for Peru’s economy.
Read an AS/COA Online News Analysis about Humala’s electoral victory.
Ecuador, Venezuela Oppose OPEC Production Increase
The presidents of Ecuador and Venezuela met this week and released a statement arguing against an increase in oil production by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), of which both countries are members. Their statement came a day before a June 8 summit in Vienna, where OPEC failed to ratify a proposal by Saudi Arabia and three other Persian Gulf countries to raise output.
Former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya signed an agreement yesterday in Cartagena, Colombia—brokered by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez—that allows him to legally return to Honduras for the first time since being overthrown in a June 2009 coup d’état. This accord was conceived at a meeting early last month between Santos, Chávez and current Honduran President Porfirio Lobo.
As part of the deal, Zelaya and his supporters will be allowed to participate in the Honduran political system. Corruption charges against Zelaya were dropped earlier this month. Lobo has pledged not to appeal them, meaning Zelaya can reenter Honduras without fear of prosecution Honduras is also expected to rejoin the Organization of American States as a full member, after being suspended one week after the coup took place.
At the Council of the Americas’ annual Washington Conference earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed support for this pact. Clinton noted that it will help reintegrate Honduras into the international community, calling this step “long overdue.”